Saturday, November 21, 2009

It Never Rains But It Pours

Trying to outwit Mother Nature through old architecture, an elk and a break in the weather

Whenever The Late Joys are asked to perform at a party, a function, a fete or some other gathering of a celebratory nature, we say, "Yes! We'll be there!" And we mean it.

Lately, however, a run of bad luck -- or bad weather -- has meant that large gatherings to which we've been booked have been canceled. To whit: Last May the Oak Hill Youth Sports Association asked if we'd play the spring BBQ "Yes!" we exulted, "We'll be there!" Alas, that day a front steamed through the region. And by "steamed" I mean the way a steamroller might steam: lethargic, leaden, chugging along with no inclination beyond its own inclemency. In short, it started raining in the wee hours and didn't let up until late in the afternoon. The sodden day meant our gig was a wash out. Sod it!

Roll the clouds jauntily forward to October. Having survived a blistering summer, suddenly the fall offered more sopping than sunshine. Sure enough, having been booked for the fall BBQ for our area soccer club (to which we said, "Yes! We'll be there!"), we awoke to another day of stagnant action in the heavens, which shed their tears on our endeavors and washed out yet another gig.

A pattern, tropical, was starting to emerge. Perhaps a change in name to accommodate the shifting weather patterns that kept us at bay? The Wet Joys? No, we persevered: Better "Late" than...well, you know...and we accepted an invitation to perform for a large party for friends in another as-yet-untried venue. The forecast? Rain. And lots of it.

But last night we had the better of our most savage, saturate critic, Mother Nature, who again rained her negative review all over Central Texas yet couldn't dampen our spirits. No, this time the party to which we celebratorily declared "Yes! We'll be there!" was held indoors. Don't say we can't learn from our mistakes! The event took place at the Elks Lodge (hence that animal head tacked to the top of this tale; it's the first (and last) thing you see coming (and going) from the lodge). It's a fine old spot, with a shallow stage and picture windows that look out over downtown Austin, featuring a precipitous drop to the shimmering pool below that induces vertigo until you realize it's the pool that's shimmering, not the floor.

And a rare old time we had. Oddly enough the Oak Hill Sports liaison who had booked us for what turned out to be that May day mayday was present at the fete. I hope he liked what he heard!

Below: Though you can't see it, it was one wet night out there. Those little lights out the window, behind Robi's Ric and rig? Though you can't see it, it's downtown Austin's high-falutin' new skyline.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Say Fear Is A Man's Best Friend

Robi welcomes the pre-performance butterflies

I remember when I'd get butterflies before playing soccer games as a kid. I also used to get them as an adult: Yup, I'd get nerves before kicking off with my local men's Sunday league club, Havoc. Usually the butters flew in as I wondered how I'd last the first five minutes of the game. But once those five minutes had passed, I'd feel stronger and stronger. Dispelling the butterflies helped me to focus and (hopefully) play better. Now, sadly, I don't get butterflies before games, a sign that I've caught up to the freight train of life as it chugs towards some terminus best left undetermined.

But the nerves: I think they came down to wanting to do well, to prove myself, to be there for my teammates. Face it, I didn't want to let down the side by playing badly! I looked forward to the butterflies. That extra energy, unnerving, unfocused, when finally harnessed, sharpened the senses and filled me with exuberance -- how fun to be alive!

The same thing goes for my music. I'm quite comfortable getting up in front of people who've come to listen to the band. It's a blast to perform. And I don't feel nervous about the possibility of messing up when I play with the band -- we're all there for each other and that big sound hides lots of little faults. It's a team effort and it works well. But up on stage alone, when there's nowhere to hide, no other musicians to lean on, I get butterflies. Mostly I think it's because I don't want to perform the songs badly, because I wrote them and I want people to like what I wrote (it's a short hop from liking what I wrote to liking me, isn't it? and we all want to be liked, if not loved, right?). It's a horrifying thought I could do some disservice to my own material and have people walk away unsatisfied! That makes me nervous. Which is a good thing.

So the last couple of weeks I have had the satisfying frightening pleasure of performing solo at Momo's. Driving to those gigs I've felt all those old soccer/soloist butterflies alight. This past Tuesday, I played to dark, cold empty room (yes, even when no one's there, ya still gotta perform as if your life depended on it). So I pulled a cafe chair to the microphone, sat down, tuned up and launched into a solo set. And, having confronted my nerves, I gotta say, it sounded pretty good! Felt good, too. When a pair of friends arrived for a drink and a listen, it was even better. Nothing beats interacting with folks you know while you share your music.

I love chasing a soccer ball and that is enough to keep me feeling spontaneous and alive when I play, even when I don't get the butterflies (though I still look for them as I drive to each Sunday's game). Musically, I reckon nerves help me to focus, to will myself to get it right. And then to dispel those butterflies, let myself go and have a good time.